The Early Days
Back in 1917 an American missionary, Henry Turnkey, registered the name ‘Assemblies of God’ with the Department of the Interior in Pretoria. Following this, a number of American, Canadian and British missionaries, while working independently, were able to operate under the umbrella of that name.
In 1923 the Lord touched the life of a young man, James Mullan, in Belfast, Ireland, who committed his life to Jesus through the preaching of W. P. Nicholson. James joined the Elim Movement inspired by George Jeffreys, a well-known revivalist of the time. He was put to work immediately on one of the Channel Islands to evangelise and plant churches. In 1925 he went to the Congo and worked with William Burton.
In 1930 James returned to England on furlough to do deputation work for the Congo Evangelistic Mission. Around that time Mary Paynter was in fellowship with the Elim church in Brighton, England, and had developed a passion to pray for the mission work in the Congo, and for a young missionary she had never met. She had been given James’s photograph, which she had stuck onto her mirror to remind her to pray! As the Lord would have it, James’s deputation work took him to the very Elim church in Brighton where Mary fellowshipped. As he set eyes upon her, he knew that this was the woman God had given him. Just five days later the man in the photograph on Mary’s mirror proposed marriage and she accepted. After a very short engagement they were married and the couple left for Africa where they were to spend the rest of their lives serving the Lord.
James and Mary Mullan left the Congo in 1935 to join Hubert Phillips at the Emanuel Mission in Nelspruit. From there they were sent to Tzaneen where they spent 9 years of ministry. During this time James established a few churches in the surrounding area. Of particular note were churches established in Tzaneen and Pietersburg.
Historic Turning Point
Nicholas Bhengu, who had come to the Lord in 1929, responded to an advertisement placed in the Ubaqa newspaper by Hubert Phillips in 1937, and started working under the umbrella of Emanuel Mission in Nelspruit.
On the 14th December 1938 James’ brother Fred, then chairman of the Assemblies of God, and Austin Chawner, the Secretary, came to a vital decision to give groups of Assemblies, and individual independent Assemblies, complete autonomy to hold their own property and govern their own affairs under the umbrella of the Assemblies of God. The General Conference unanimously ratified this decision, paving the way for the Emanuel Mission, which now included Nicholas Bhengu and James Mullan, to come under the Assemblies of God (AOG) umbrella.
Church government and practice was a constant debate among the many missions that were a part of the Assemblies of God and therefore James Mullan was asked to search the Scriptures and to present his findings to the next General Conference. Having a clear understanding of the Elim Movement’s central government operation, he thought the task would be simple. His prayers and research, however, led him to present a radically different method of Church Government, based on the ‘ascended Christ gift ministries’ spoken about in Eph. 4:11, i.e. apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. In addition, local Assemblies were to be ruled by elders or pastors. This proposal was so revolutionary that the General Conference adopted none of his points.
A Vital Partnership
While still in Tzaneen, James Mullan invited Nicholas Bhengu for a series of special meetings. The men discussed their persuasions on church administration and found agreement in the revelation of the “ascended Christ ministries” principle. This, they believed, was the way the early church operated and was therefore the Scriptural way. This led them to form a partnership and go into areas of South Africa where there were no Assemblies of God churches.
In 1944 James and Mary left Tzaneen for Port Elizabeth in a caravan they had purchased from Fred Burke. Without financial support or contacts, James began preaching the Gospel to children on the beaches, in the open air, to bus queues and to queues outside rugby matches. Soon, by the grace of God, an Assembly was established in Port Elizabeth.
Nicholas joined him there and the work of the Lord began to thrive under the powerful ministries of these men. Between 1945 and 1964 James Mullan established some twenty Assemblies that stretched from Cape Town to Zambia and Zimbabwe. By 1964 Nicholas Bhengu had also moved throughout the country and had Assemblies relating to him in Bloemfontein, Kimberley, Pietersburg, Durban, Johannesburg, Harare, Zambia, Transkei and East London. Nicholas even caught the attention of the International media and was spoken about in an article in Time Magazine, 23rd November 1959. The Post Office even delivered a letter, to ‘The Negro Preacher, South Africa’, to Nicholas, its rightful owner!
By sheer weight of numbers and the phenomenal growth of the work under these two men, the approach to Church Government and the Ministries, as proposed by James, was generally accepted in the Assemblies of God. Some Independent Assemblies and expatriate missionaries, however, could not be persuaded.
A Significant Warrior Joins the Fray
Thelma Frost was one of the contacts the Mullans made in Port Elizabeth in 1945. Thelma’s sister, Molly, some four years later, met and married Mike Attlee, a young man with a promising rugby future. The couple often passed the WCTU Hall, where the PE Assembly met, with Mike ever assuring Molly that nothing would get him behind those doors! But God had other plans.
Tragedy struck early in their married life when their first son, Anthony, was born with defects and a cyst in his brain, causing serious complications. The Attlee’s were devastated.
Mike’s father, Wilfred, not yet saved, on hearing about Nicholas Bhengu, persuaded his son to ask Nicholas to pray for Anthony. Reluctantly Mike agreed. When Mike located John Bond in order to make contact with Nicholas Bhengu, John explained the way of salvation to Mike and that very evening Mike Attlee received the Lord Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. That same weekend, on Sunday 3rd January 1954, Mike, Molly and Wilfred Attlee all responded publicly to the Gospel in the Port Elizabeth Assembly.
During the weekend Nicholas Bhengu prayed for Anthony. Although there was no initial change, the little boy made a miraculous recovery over a period of about 12 months bringing much joy and blessing to the Attlee family, and many others, until the Lord took him home 11 years later. Many came to Christ through Anthony’s story and the Attlee’s testimony.
Mike soon became actively involved, and was grounded in the faith, in the Port Elizabeth Assembly. Later he was sent to the Cape Town Assembly from where, in 1959, James Mullan sent Mike and Molly to Livingstone, Zambia, into full-time ministry. In January 1961, James asked Mike and Molly to take responsibility for the Moore Road Assembly in Durban where both John Bond and Paul Lange had ministered prior to the Attlees’ arrival.
On the 15th of October 1964 at a General Meeting at Moore Road, the name and Constitution of the ‘Coastal Assemblies of God’ was adopted. This was to enable the Assemblies working with Mike Attlee to register and hold property – permissible under the umbrella of the Assemblies of God. Mike Attlee emphasised, however, that for all spiritual matters, the Bible remained our only Constitution.
The first Trustees of this newly formed organization were Mike Attlee (Chairman), Bob Williams, Ken Williamson and Gerald Hawyes as Secretary/Treasurer. The Coastal Assemblies of God books of account were opened and accurate records were kept from 1 November 1964. John Howe left his bank employment and stepped into the ministry of full-time Secretary/Treasurer of the CAOG in 1976. Due to the growth of the work Dug Watridge became the full-time CAOG Accountant in 1994.
A Refreshing Growth Period
James Mullan asked Mike Attlee to assist with caring for the Assembly in Newcastle resulting in the spreading to Dundee. Then the Lord began to open doors in other areas. A cottage meeting was started in the Stanger area in the Holst’s home, then the van der Poel’s opened their home in Eshowe. In each place an Assembly was established and the work spread to Melmoth and Empangeni. In 1970 a cottage meeting commenced in the home of Dennis and Ramona Norton in Assagay, and shortly after that, another in the home of George Jonnes in Cowies Hill. A tragic air crash in Windhoek took the life of Dyllis Hind’s husband but opened the way for a meeting in her home in Winston Park. A cottage meeting was also started with Moore Road Believers living in the Pinetown area.
Meetings were started in Port Shepstone in Des Rothman’s home and later in the van Aard’s home. Sometime later, a meeting started in the Reardon’ s home in Umhlanga Rocks. From these cottage meetings the Pinetown Assembly, and then the Sarnia and Hillcrest Assemblies were started. Later, an Assembly started in the Port Shepstone/Uvongo area and also one at Rosehill, Durban North.
From the Hillcrest Assembly there was the development of the Waterfall Assembly, and from Sarnia, the Queensburgh Assembly took shape. Moore Road Assembly Believers, living on the Bluff, formed the nucleus of the Bluff Assembly. Pinetown Assembly Believers, who travelled faithfully from Pietermaritzburg to Pinetown meetings, opened their home and the Bisley Park Assembly was established.
The ‘Coast’ of Coastal Assemblies Reaches Inland
In 1972, when Gerald Hawyes transferred to the Transvaal, the Constantia Kloof Assembly started in his home. On hearing that there was a ‘Coastal Assembly’ in the Transvaal a number of Believers travelled through to Constantia Kloof from Pretoria. From this a cottage meeting started in the home of Pierre and Anne Groenewald, which later became the Lyttelton Assembly, now “Lakeside”, in about May 1975. The Lyttelton Assembly was the launching pad for the Pretoria East Assembly, now known as the Riviera Assembly.
In 1974 Bible Study tapes by Mike Attlee found their way into the hands of Ron and Joyce Gardiner and an Assembly was born in Windhoek, Namibia (South West Africa).
Around the same time, the Kempton Park Assembly asked to come under the oversight of Mike Attlee, and shortly after that the Bloemfontein Assembly followed suit. Kempton Park gave birth to the Edenvale Assembly and then later the Randburg Assembly, which came about as a result of an outreach to the Horizon Clinic.
Brethren moved from Lakeside and Kempton Park and started the Riebeeckstad (Welkom) Assembly in the Free State. The Bloemfontein Assembly saw the Forsbergs move to the Cape and an Assembly under the oversight of Rod Baard was formed in the Cape Town area.
The ‘Coast’ Extends Overseas
In 1976 Mike Attlee had an opportunity to go to England and the Lord opened a door to establish a ‘Mission to Britain’. In 1977 he sent Tony and Carol Robson, newlyweds of 5 months, to pioneer the work in Bexhill-on-Sea. A year later the ground was laid for a one-week ministry series with Brother Mike. Out of these meetings, the Bexhill Christian Fellowship was established.
In the mid-eighties South Africans had become “the offscouring of the earth” because of the political situation of those days and sadly, the work dwindled. While these distant lands were to lay dormant to the CAOG, it was only for a short period before God would open the way again for this vision to continue with Rod and Mercia Baard moving to London. The Assemblies in Littleport and West Hampstead are “running the race with patience”.
A Notable Turning Point
When James Mullan had fulfilled his three score years and ten in 1971, he appointed brethren in whom he had confidence as ‘potential apostles’. These were Mike Attlee, John Bond, Noel Scheepers, Trevor Yoko and Paul Lange. Paul felt that he was more of an evangelist than an apostle and Trevor left the Assemblies of God. This left the work that God had begun with James Mullan in the hands of the three remaining brethren, along with the additional Assemblies each of them had started.
When the Charismatic Movement came into full swing many people from different denominations were being filled with the Holy Spirit. Charismatic Leaders came to the fore with revolutionary ideas and new doctrines that rocked the AOG and the church at large. The CAOG believers rejoiced that others were receiving the Holy Spirit, but were concerned with the unscriptural practices that emerged from their teaching. Mike Attlee cautioned believers to continue steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer with the firm belief that ministries were developed and trained in the local Assembly. After many discussions and debates over many years things finally came to a head when unacceptable changes were made to the constitution of the Assemblies of God. The CAOG, and several other groups of Assemblies, withdrew from the AOG.
Post AOG Days
The Coastal Assemblies believers were barely aware that anything had changed and Assembly life continued as usual. The work continued to expand and ministries were raised up. An awkward aspect of our departure from the AOG was that the name ‘Coastal Assemblies’ received greater prominence than was ever intended.
A major development came about with the purchase of the Golden Harvest Retreat and Conference Centre in the Natal Midlands. Golden Harvest has since proved its worth over and over by serving as a vital catalyst in bringing brethren together by way of Seminars and Conferences. These gatherings provide the platform for brethren to “speak the same thing”, and encourage them into the unity of the Faith. Only those who have attended these Seminars will know the depth and blessing they produce.
In 1985 that spiritual giant and apostle, Nicholas Bhengu, went to be with the Lord. This man had, by the grace of God, won the hearts of many throughout Southern Africa and abroad with his simple yet profound preaching, spiritual insight and wisdom. Had he remained in his early vocation as a Trade Union member and member of the Communist Party, there is no doubt he would have risen to great political heights. But God took hold of his life and he is now with the King of kings. And because of his ministry and faithfulness, many, many others have followed.
James Mullan, the beloved pioneer, apostle and tireless worker for the Lord, also joined the Assembly of the First Born in Heaven on 21 December 1987. In all his ‘contending for the Faith once delivered to the saints’, he always displayed a Christ-like spirit, and was the perfect gentleman. These attitudes veiled his steely determination and resolve to stand for what was scriptural and right. His oft-quoted challenge to preachers who strayed from the truth was, “Chapter and verse brother?!” His ministry laid the doctrinal foundation upon which the Coastal Assemblies stands today.
Just three years later, on Thursday morning, the 29th March 1990, Mike Attlee, then 59 years of age, completed his earthly course. Despite being in severe pain from the heart attack he was suffering in Rosetta’s farming area, knowing that his time had come, he gave instructions to his wife, Molly in preparation for his death. Then, communing with his Lord in tongues, he passed through the veil into the presence of the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus, being called Home to his reward.
Mike Attlee’s powerful presence, humble but forceful persuasion, quick brain, physical strength, dynamic apostolic ministry and depth of revelation in the Word of God – all part of that gifting from Above – will long be remembered. We, with so many others, still appreciate the privilege of having sat under his anointed ministry, and being built upon the foundation, Jesus Christ, he so ably laid in the Coastal Assemblies of God.
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all then: also that love his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:8
A Time of Adjustment
The brethren in the CAOG had precious fellowship amongst them with each of the ministering brethren having a personal relationship with Mike Attlee as he exercised the apostolic ministry given to him by the Lord Jesus. Obviously a huge gap resulted when the Lord chose to call him Home. The whole Fellowship was called to prayer, with Wednesday 5th April being set aside as a Day of Prayer and fasting to find the mind of the Lord.
So it was that eighty-nine brethren met at Golden Harvest on the weekend 7 – 9th April 1990. The Friday evening meeting started with a release of pent-up emotions in a triumphant time of praise and worship and the Lord’s Presence was experienced in a remarkable way, with spiritual gifts of comfort and reassurance.
Harry Wilkinson, a long standing brother in the AOG and CAOG, an ordained Elder in the Hillcrest Assembly and a Trustee, related to the meeting a prompting he felt he had received from the Lord to put forward the names of Chris Scott, Peter Hawyes and Malcolm Harris to jointly become custodians of the work “in the interim”. Eighty-six of the brethren present confirmed the decision. The Trustees satisfied themselves that the few objections were not on any moral grounds and the decision was then established before the Lord with prayer and the laying on of hands.
As with every new development and calling, a time of testing ensued. Differences of application in various Assemblies, previously skilfully managed under Mike’s ministry, now became more evident as brethren began to relate together without the unifying ministry of Mike Attlee, but as brethren in a new era.
Thankfully, the true Builder of the Church ministered into the hearts of all the brethren and, by God’s grace a unity in oversight ensued and the work has been able to grow with peace, blessing and godly comfort permeating the Fellowship.
The Way Forward
Since March 1990 several new Assemblies have been established and are in different stages of development. The Three Rivers, Cape Town North, Greytown, Estcourt, Rynfield, Bethulie, Rivonia, Vanderbijlpark, Howick, Mafikeng, Umtenzini, Port Elizabeth, Vryheid, and Hartbeespoortdam Assemblies all came into being, with Elliott Assembly also joining us. Further afield in the UK, Westhampstead and Littleport, and in the USA, Fort Lauderdale have also been established.
Looking back to our roots, and the path we have come, we conclude that the tests, trials and tribulations have been opportunities to be exercised in the grace of God our Father. More than ever are we convinced that the Lord has graciously given us a mandate to hold fast to the faith once delivered to the saints regarding the foundation and administration of the New Testament Church.
The emphasis on the Ministries, the First Principles, the Priesthood of Believers, the operation of the Body of Christ, the plurality of local Assembly Leadership we have enjoyed over the years, are all very blessed building blocks that have brought us, as a Fellowship, into a place where we humbly give God all the glory and praise, declaring, Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
We are constantly challenged to evaluate and resist the many winds of erroneous doctrine that ceaselessly flood the wider Church. Some of the steps and stands we have had to take have been costly and painful, but we praise God that His grace has preserved us; we still cling to Him and the Faith He delivered to the saints at the beginning!
2 Corinthians 13:5 exhorts us to, Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves, and, by God’s grace, we shall ever remain self-evaluating.
At the same time, rather than becoming preoccupied with ourselves, we are committed to the purpose for which our Lord Jesus came to this earth. To this end we maintain the vision of fulfilling the Great Commission He has entrusted to us; “Go ye …”
With the Coming of the Lord drawing ever closer, three areas require our earnest prayer and concerted effort:
- Focus on the raising up, ordaining and establishing of Spirit-filled, godly Elders in each Assembly; men able to protect and feed the flock of God.
- Each Believer in our local Assemblies making it his and her personal mission to tell people about Jesus, so that souls may be saved, Assemblies may know increase and, above all, that our Lord Jesus may be glorified.
- Focus on the sending out of labourers into the harvest to preach the Gospel and establish Assemblies that the Kingdom of God may be extended.
We need to see servants like Nicholas Bhengu, James Mullan and Mike Attlee raised up to saturate South Africa, Africa and the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s very power unto salvation. We need to see churches established according to the New Testament pattern, so that as many as possible may be kept until that glorious moment when we see the Lord Jesus face to face.
On the legal side, in accordance with South African Law, Trustees bear the responsibility of ensuring that the Fellowship’s finances and assets are correctly administered. The Trustees currently serving the Fellowship are Chris Scott, Peter Hawyes, Val Field, Chris Sykes, Des Rothman and Monty Rethman
Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come and will not tarry. Hebrews 10:3
See, saith He, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. – Hebrews 8:5
But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 3:10, 11
As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him: rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. – Colossians 2:6-7